School Board contest tops Cape Elizabeth ballot

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CAPE ELIZABETH — Joanna Morrissey and Elizabeth Scifres are running for re-election to three-year terms on the School Board in November.

Barbara Powers, a retired teacher and school administrator, hopes to unseat one of them.

The Town Council election is uncontested, with Councilor Katharine Ray seeking re-election, and newcomer Patty Grennon running for the seat being vacated by Councilor David Sherman.

Wayne Ross is uncontested in a re-election bid for his seat on the Portland Water District Board of Trustees.

Joanna Morrissey

Morrissey has lived in Cape Elizabeth with her husband and two children for over 20 years. She is the program manager for the Substance Abuse Prevention Coalition in Portland, has served on the board of Big Brothers Big Sisters for six years, and was also a member of the Junior League.

She is seeking her second term on the School Board.

Morrissey is the chairwoman of the policy committee and is in the process of overhauling school policies and aligning them with the strategic plan.

“It’s long hard work, but it’s getting at the essence of what I want to achieve on the School Board by digging into issues, finding solutions, and ensuring our policies reflect our values of nourishing our children,” she said.

Morrissey said that although there is always room for improvement, the School Department is doing very well.

“We’re very fortunate that our current school system is in great shape,” she said. “Our students are career and school ready when they leave our district.”

Morrissey said the district doesn’t have a specific problem it needs to fix, but that it wants to implement differentiation: teachers have to find different ways to help children, and find a plan that works for them, based on the fact that children learn and understand material in different ways.

Morrissey said she wants children to actually absorb and understand information, rather than just having them be able to pass standardized tests.

“We can maybe work towards eliminating homework for homework’s sake, and start working with children in the areas they need help in,” she said.

Morrissey said she also wants to “make sure our curriculum aligns with 21st century skills.” She said this will better prepare kids to understand the world around them.

“Since I’ve been on the board, moving our students to being global citizens has been a focus,” she said.

Morrissey also said she supports the bond referendum to renovate Thomas Memorial Library, because it would create a “portal into that global community” for students.

Elizabeth Scifres

Scifres is the varsity girls’ tennis coach at South Portland High School, and has lived in Cape Elizabeth for 10 years with her husband and two children. She is the vice chairwoman of the School Board, and is running for her second term.

“I think it’s just really good, honest work and it’s a good way to serve,” she said.

Scifres said right now the board is working on its strategic plan and she hopes to continue this work.

“Now we’re almost at this point where we can unveil our strategic plan,” she said.

Scifres said the board has also developed a 10-year capital improvement plan and is working on “being able to provide high-quality and differentiated experience for all students.”

Scifres said she supports differentiation and finds it exciting.

“The differentiation is really about knowing the student really well and knowing that every student can learn and get there,” she said.

Scifres said if teachers can provide this more tailored way of teaching, children will receive a better education.

“It helps everyone access this high-quality instruction,” Scifres said. “Everyone’s getting what they need.”

Scifres said once this is in place in the entire district, there will be more unity between schools.

“There’s a ‘common language’ and I think that’ll be good for the whole district,” she said.

Scifres said she also cares about planning a careful budget to make sure taxes are being spent wisely.

“I’m sensitive to that,” she said. “You have to really be thoughtful with that.”

Scifres said she believes the library renovation will be a good use of money. She said it would benefit the schools.

“I think it’ll be a really great asset,” Scifres said. “It’ll complement the school system greatly.”

Barbara Powers

Powers has lived in Cape Elizabeth with her husband and two children for 34 years. She recently retired as the superintendent of schools in Falmouth. Prior to that, she worked in Cape Elizabeth schools for 18 years as the high school assistant principal, the Pond Cove Elementary School principal, and as a teacher.

She chairs the Cape Elizabeth 250th Anniversary Committee, and said she wants to stay involved with the schools.

“I retired from an official position in education,” Powers said, “but I didn’t retire from my interest in education.”

She said her long experience would help the board and the community.

“Given the complex times in schools, I’d like to give my resources back to my town,” Powers said.

Powers said there are three issues she’d like to focus on.

The first is fostering a “positive school culture” between the board, the superintendent, staff, administrators, teachers, parents, students, and the rest of the community.

Powers said she also would seek greater budget transparency.

“I have a lot of experience helping communities understand a school budget,” she said.

She said one way this could be achieved would be to improve the School Department’s online presence, so people would have access to more information.

“A few tweaks to the website can really help to reflect that,” Powers said.

Powers said she also wants to be sure that all students are allowed to reach their full potential. She said differentiation is “a terrific goal for improving instruction,” but that there are multiple things that could be done.

“My goal in asking good questions is how differentiation can be best contextualized in the midst of all the other initiatives coming at the school right now,” Powers said.

She also said she supports the library renovation because it would be a good resource for all the schools.

Katharine Ray

Ray, who works at The Iris Network, has lived in Cape Elizabeth her entire life, and is married with one daughter. She has been a town councilor for one term and chaired the ordinance committee. Previously, she was on the School Board for eight years and was the chairwoman for two years.

“A continuation of being a good steward for the town of Cape Elizabeth is an important piece of being a part of this community,” Ray said.

While recently working on the issues surrounding the Spurwink Rod and Gun Club and the new firing range ordinance, Ray has made it clear that she doesn’t think public money should be given to a private organization. She said this creates a “slippery slope.”

“I’m always trying to be very cognizant of where we’re spending tax money,” Ray said.

Ray said she supports the proposed $4 million library renovation.

“I’m very satisfied that the community has done a wonderful job at putting together a library that will fit the town of Cape Elizabeth and be beautiful and it’s half the price (of the renovation proposed in 2012),” she said.

Patty Grennon

Grennon has lived in Cape Elizabeth 35 years; she is married and has three children. She works as a certified personal trainer at Back Cove Personal Fitness in Portland, and is the vice president of community outreach and membership for the Junior League of Portland.

Grennon is also on the board of the Cape Elizabeth Education Foundation and is a former president of CEEF. She also founded Kids First Center for Families of Separation and Divorce.

She said she wants to serve on the Town Council so she can help the community.

“I care a lot about my community,” Grennon said. “I want to make sure it goes forward in a way that gives back to the community.”

She said there is no single issue she’s running on, but she knows she wants to “be a steward for protecting taxpayer dollars.”

As for the issue surrounding the gun club, Grennon said she believes the council has been smart in its decisions so far, but that there’s still more work to do.

“I think there’s more to be done,” she said. “I think it’s great that there’s been dialog and compromise.”

Grennon said she supports the proposed library renovation.

“I think the library’s going to be fantastic,” she said. “I think what they’ve come forth with is a fabulous project. It’s the right time and the right place.”

Wayne Ross

Ross has lived in South Portland for 35 years and has served one five-year on the Portland Water District Board of Trustees. He holds one of two seats that represents both South Portland and Cape Elizabeth. He is a former president of Southern Maine Community College.

Ross is on the PWD operations committee, which oversees construction for the district. 

“My big concern is providing safe, clean water to southern Maine,” he said.

Kate Gardner can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 125 or kgardner@theforecaster.net. Follow her on Twitter: @katevgardner.

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I'm a reporter for The Forecaster covering Freeport, Yarmouth, Chebeague Island, and Cape Elizabeth. I'm from a small town in NH no one's ever heard of. When not reporting, I can be found eating pasta and reading books, often at the same time.